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Following the example of York County, Williamsburg leaders have authored an op-ed calling on state legislators to make K-12 education a primary funding priority in the Fiscal Year 2017 and 2018 budgets.
City of Williamsburg Mayor Clyde Haulman, WJCC School Division Superintendent Steven Constantino and President and CEO of the Greater Williamsburg Area Chamber & Tourism Alliance Karen Riordan collaborated on the letter.
The letter was released Monday, a month after leaders from Urban Crescent localities, which stretch from Northern Virginia through Richmond to Hampton Roads, met to discuss state education funding.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe presented his proposed budget for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, which includes a new investment in education that exceeds $1 billion, to the General Assembly’s money committees Dec. 17.
In the letter, the trio argue that, in recent years, additional local funds have gone to support education in the absence of sufficient state funding, resulting in less money available for public safety and other resident services.
During Monday’s City Council work session, City Manager Marvin Collins shared a table that shows the city’s education spending above the state-determined Required Local Effort has increased dramatically in recent years, jumping from 4.2 percent in FY 2011 to 61.1 percent in FY 2014.
“It’s embarrassing to be such a rich state and to watch what they’re doing with education funding,” Councilwoman Judith Knudson said of the declining state contribution. “It’s just flat-out embarrassing.”
The leaders assert quality K-12 education is a “necessity” in order to compete in a national and global economy. They also address the need to offer enrichment programs for struggling students and ensure equal access to basic education throughout the commonwealth.
“As the General Assembly begins its session, we believe it is crucial for Virginians to understand the change in the Commonwealth’s commitment to K-12 education and the impacts that change has had on local governments and school children,” Riordan wrote in an email to WYDaily. “This will be a major issue we are advocating for when the General Assembly begins this week.”
While Haulman, Constantino and Riordan’s letter explores the statewide impact of declining education funding, York County Administrator Neil Morgan and York County School Division Superintendent Victor Shandor offer details on the resulting budgetary challenges for their locality in their letter to legislators.
Haulman said a letter prepared by the Urban Crescent and addressed to the General Assembly and the governor has already garnered more than 100 signatures from local leaders.
Although Vice Mayor Paul Freiling expressed concern the General Assembly would not be able to respond favorably to the requests of Williamsburg and Urban Crescent leaders – “my only hope,” he said, “is the conversation doesn’t get shut down because the answer is simply, ‘We don’t have enough money,’” – Haulman said it is important all localities speak out with their signatures.
“I think we’ve gotten to the point where we need to do more and hopefully the Urban Crescent speaking with one voice can help make a difference,” Haulman said.
While no James City County official contributed to the Williamsburg letter, County Administrator Bryan Hill wrote in a message to staff that the county is “very concerned about education” and is “hopeful funding will increase” for WJCC schools.
The 2016 General Assembly session begins Wednesday.